Islanders 12-Step Plan For Perfect Offseason

The New York Islanders are in the middle of a crucial offseason where general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello is betting on himself to turn the team around. After firing head coach Barry Trotz and hiring assistant coach Lane Lambert, Lamoriello is looking at a busy offseason ahead where he hopes to not only allow the Islanders to reach the playoffs next season, but once again compete for the Stanley Cup.

The Islanders have a short list of issues to address, but following a blueprint, the team can easily rebound in the offseason. 12-step programs are a great way to follow a plan to success and for the Islanders, if they follow the proper steps, they can have an offseason that immediately makes them contenders for next season. For Lamoriello, it all starts with the NHL Entry Draft and how he decides to approach it.

1. Lamoriello Should Consider Trading Back in the First Round

The upcoming draft is one of the more unpredictable ones in recent years, especially after the top five selections in the first round. Some prospects possess top-10 talent, but are projected to be selected at the end of the first round. Likewise, some prospects have garnered the attention of front offices around the NHL and as a result, have seen their value rise ahead of the draft. For the Islanders, if there’s a prospect they like but are confident they can select him late in the first round, trading back looks to be the ideal strategy.

It’s also important for the Islanders to keep in mind the teams drafting right behind them in the first round. The team with the 14th, 15th, and 16th picks are the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres, all three teams are likely targeting the same prospects. The Islanders can allow a handful of teams to leap to the 13th pick and if the right offer is available, Lamoriello can and should take advantage.

2. Avoid Trading the 13th Pick for a Veteran

The Islanders are looking to win next season and possibly make an aggressive move on the night of the draft to acquire a veteran like Blake Wheeler or Jeff Petry. However, they have to avoid falling into the trap of trading the 13th-overall pick for a veteran that isn’t an elite talent or puts the roster over the top. The Islanders ideally will refuel the prospect pool, which is one of the league’s worst, in the draft and that starts in the first round.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While they should avoid trading the 13th pick for a veteran, there are opportunities for the Islanders to upgrade their roster with a trade involving the draft pick. A possible option would be to move the pick as part of a blockbuster deal. If the Islanders trade the 13th pick, along with a starter on their roster and another piece for a player like Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak, or Jakob Chychrun, the move could be worthwhile. However, despite the intrigue to make a big move, the team is better off adding prospects to an otherwise depleted farm system.

3. Leave Rounds 1 & 2 of the NHL Draft With a Forward & Defenseman

The Islanders enter this draft with two major needs. They must add a forward who can eventually open up the offense of the wing and find a puck-handling defenseman that can ideally play alongside the young and talented Noah Dobson. If they address one unit in the first round, they must help out the other unit by the second round.

Oddly enough, the team’s second round selection won’t come until the 65th pick in the draft, a pick they own from the Devon Toews trade in the 2020 offseason. The team lost its initial pick in the round (45th overall) after trading Andrew Ladd to the Arizona Coyotes in the 2021 offseason. Regardless, the Islanders have two selections in the first two rounds and will hopefully make the most of them.

Related: 4 Islanders Draft Targets for 13th Selection

With the two picks, the Islanders have more than enough options to address both positions. The goal scorers that will likely be available include Conor Geekie, Rutger McGroarty, and Brad Lambert. Defensively, the Islanders also have a handful of targets in both rounds, whether Pavel Mintyukov or Kevin Korchinski fall to the 13th pick or they find a gem in Mattias Hävelid by the 65th pick. The upcoming draft might not possess the star power as other previous years but the depth and unpredictability allow Lamoriello to find potential NHL starters in the first two rounds.

4. Give Dobson a Long-Term Extension

There’s a strong argument for a bridge deal, one that would keep Dobson under contract for only three or four years, but not make him a major salary cap hit. With the Islanders hoping to contend next season, the more salary cap space available the better, especially if the team hopes to add star-caliber players to the roster. However, the best option for both the upcoming season and for years to come is to give Dobson a long-term contract, one that keeps him on the roster for seven or possibly eight seasons.

Noah Dobson New York Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The priority for Lamoriello is to secure Dobson, a 22-year-old defenseman that is arguably the best puck handler and playmaker from the point on the defensive unit. He is essential to the Islanders’ success and a long-term deal helps keep the key player on the defense together for the next few seasons, with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock both receiving contract extensions in the 2021 offseason. Moreover, Dobson is a building block for the Islanders and the team must keep one of their most important players under contract for as many seasons as possible as a result.

5. Islanders Ideally Make a One-For-One Trade

The Islanders have multiple players on the trade block this offseason. From players entering the final years of their contracts like Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov, or players who struggled last season to find a role on the roster like Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier, the team can make a trade this offseason to add a new look, especially to the forward unit. Furthermore, Lamoriello has hinted toward making a hockey trade this offseason in a move that could be a win-win deal for the two teams involved.

While the Islanders wouldn’t acquire a star in a hockey trade per se, they would add a depth player to an already deep roster. The team can target players like Jesse Puljujärvi or Dylan Strome, two young forwards that like Beauvillier have struggled to find a role on their respective teams and could be moved this offseason. Likewise, the Islanders could look to acquire a pending free agent like Max Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights, who is a playmaker on the offensive end of the ice but has a $7 million cap hit on a team looking to open up cap space on their roster. A minor trade might not be the move that allows the team to rebound but it would signal a big offseason ahead, one where Lamoriello makes a splash.

6. Acquire a Star Forward

This is arguably the greatest priority for the Islanders in the offseason. The offense struggled last season, scoring only 2.79 goals per game, and forwards like Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom, two of the team’s most promising players, struggled to create scoring chances and find the back of the net.

Ideally, the Islanders sign Johnny Gaudreau, the Calgary Flames’ top skater who finished fourth in the Hart Trophy award voting last season. Not only is he one of the most talented players in the game who can elevate any line he plays on but his speed and ability to draw skaters would particularly help out Barzal, Wahlstrom, and the other great skaters on the team. Gaudreau would put the Islanders over the top and instantly make them one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. However, as a pending free agent, he will not only garner a massive contract, in the seven-year $11 million range but he will be pursued by a handful of teams around the NHL including the Flames, the team he’s played his entire career with.

The Islanders are one of the front runners to sign Gaudreau, but if they can’t acquire him, they have other options to fill to scoring void. Filip Forsberg might not carry his shift but on the Nashville Predators, he provided a strong scoring presence, especially in the 2021-22 season where he scored 42 goals and added 42 assists to the forward unit. Likewise, David Perron is a free agent and while he didn’t put the St. Louis Blues offense over the top, he was a reliable contributor to the top-six of the forward unit. The Islanders have the salary cap space to sign a star skater. While Lamoriello missed out on the New York Rangers acquisition of Artemi Panarin in the 2018 offseason, he will likely find the player he wants this year.

7. Test the Market for Varlamov

The Islanders can return one of the best goaltending duos in the league for next season. However, Ilya Sorokin undoubtedly has emerged as the starting goaltender for the team after a remarkable year and looks poised to start 50 or even 60 games in the upcoming season. Sorokin is emerging as one of the best young goaltenders in the game and Varlamov entering the final year of his contract make the 34-year-old goaltender expendable.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Varlamov might be a backup on the Islanders but even in a season riddled by injuries and setbacks, he proved he can start for a majority of teams at the NHL level. Plenty of teams, including the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Golden Knights will be searching for a starting goaltender who also has success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Varlamov will field a strong offer and open up salary cap space for the Islanders and if Lamoriello sees an opportunity, he must take advantage.

If the team chooses to move on from their veteran goaltender, the question becomes who can fill the void as a backup. While Braden Holtby, Martin Jones, and Jaroslav Halak might not sound like the ideal goaltenders for the Islanders to pursue, on a team-friendly contract and in a minimal role, they can all fit in with the team. Varlamov will likely remain on the team next season but the team has to see the available offers. Moreover, the trade would kickstart the big offseason and provide the salary cap space needed for signing a few big names in free agency.

8. Life in the Fast Lane

Aside from the moves in the draft and free agency, this offseason will be about how the Islanders reinvent themselves. With Lambert hired as the head coach, the team has to find a balance. Trotz improved the defense and made the team a disciplined one that could win low-scoring games. However, with the game shifting to a faster, offensive style, Lambert will need to pivot the team in that direction. The moves made by Lamoriello will reflect the emphasis on speed and offense but the way the Islanders look on the ice heading into the season will also be pivotal as they adapt to the modern game.

9. Finding a Place for Bellows

Kieffer Bellows enter the offseason as a restricted free agent (RFA) with his entry-level contract expiring. The 24-year-old old forward looks poised for a team-friendly bridge deal, which would keep him on the roster and allow the Islanders to still make multiple big moves in the offseason. However, the important thing for Bellows is that he must find a role on the forward unit as a promising wing forward but one that struggles to settle into a rhythm on the offense.

Kieffer Bellows New York Islanders
Kieffer Bellows, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Islanders don’t see a place for Bellows on the forward unit, they have to move on from him. He has proven he can impact the middle six of a forward unit and teams looking to rebuild should consider acquiring the young forward. For the Islanders, this makes Bellows a valuable piece in any offseason blockbuster trades, ones that can land an elite talent.

10. Create Avenues for the Bridgeport Prospects

The Islanders’ farm system isn’t promising, but the American Hockey League (AHL) team, the Bridgeport Islanders will be an intriguing team to follow both this offseason and throughout next season. Aatu Raty is one of the team’s best prospects and could develop into a star forward. Meanwhile, William Dufour took the Memorial Cup by storm helping the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Saint John Sea Dogs win the title. Both forwards will start next season in the AHL but the question is when they will be ready to make an impact at the NHL level and if there’s a path to join the roster.

The same can be said about some of the young defensemen who had brief playing stints with the Islanders last season. Robin Salo and Grant Hutton showed flashes but still need to refine their game, especially on the defensive end of the ice. However, if either Salo or Hutton is ready by the start of this season or even midway through next season, they can help secure the defensive unit, particularly on the left side.

The Islanders are in a win-now situation, possessing a veteran roster that has playoff experience. The younger players might not have a direct path to the NHL team, but they can provide a much-needed boost to the older roster. Additionally, the young presence on the roster can keep the competitive window open for years to come with key contributors on the team in the early years of their careers. Lamoriello is going to try to build a roster to compete for the Stanley Cup but has to keep an eye on the young prospects and how they can add to the team.

11. Islanders Should Add Role Players

Lamoriello’s top priority is to add an elite player, particularly to the top six to elevate the ceiling of the team. In addition to acquiring a top-level player, the Islanders have to refuel the depth of the team and continue to add role players to both the forward and defensive unit. The Islanders reached the Stanley Cup semifinals in consecutive seasons, largely because of their deep roster that could overwhelm the opposition. Last season, the team saw firsthand how things can unravel when players on the third line or third defensive pairing fail to step up and as a result, need to continue adding key players throughout the roster.

12. Lamoriello Shouldn’t Go All-In

The Islanders are understandably looking to rebound and make the moves necessary to win the Cup. With one of the older rosters in the NHL and a small contending window, it’s easy to view the team as only a few pieces away and makes the moves needed to put the team over the top. However, despite the urgency, the Islanders can’t go all-in on the next season. Last year, the team signed Zdeno Chara with the hope that he was the final missing piece but instead the move backfired, and they were trying to climb out of a hole throughout the season and ultimately, failed to make the playoffs.

Zdeno Chara New York Islanders
Zdeno Chara, New York Islanders (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

The Islanders’ roster has the potential to unravel, and if things go wrong to start the season, the team can be stuck in a mess for the rest of the year. Instead of being overaggressive in the offseason, Lamoriello should allow room to maneuver and if the team is competitive, the trade deadline could be the optimal opportunity to buy-in.

The Islanders have a talented roster and one that could be one of the best in the Eastern Conference next season. Yes, the front office must be active but with a reasonable amount of precaution.

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